Category Archives: Letters from Armorica

Letters from Armorica- Cleaning Up (15 Novembre 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Aunt Maggie,

Trusting that my cousin Jack is well, and presuming upon your good will, I've enclosed a letter for him. Please, of your love for me, send it onward to him wherever he may be.

Your loving nephew,

Armand

Dear Jack,

Why is it that soldiers are such pigs? Or perhaps you will tell me that it is only Provençese soldiers that are pigs, and that Cumbrian soldiers are fine, upstanding, courtly lads who would never dream of carving obscenities on the mantelpiece of a temporary billet. Indeed, I think you might very well tell me that; and yet you forget how very well I have known you from a child.

Cumbrian soldiers would have been an improvement, mind you. The rubbish heaped (and, in some cases, seeped) into the corners of the rooms of our little house would at least be Cumbrian rubbish, and my dear Amelie would be less likely to be offended by their foul words.

You may well blink in surprise! Yes, not only do I have a dear Amelie, but we are wed; and not only wed, but parents of a lovely little girl.

You needn't look like that, Jack. Your countenance betrays your evil soldier's mind. Amelie and were married last December, and little Anne-Marie was born in September. Shame on you, Jack!

But yes, I find I am "settled down" here in Armorica. Not in Mont-Havre, however. On receiving your last letter I found myself quite unwilling to assist le Maréchal's forces in anything like an official capacity, and finding Mont-Havre uncongenial to those aims I journeyed out to Bois-de-Bas, the small village where my friends Marc and Elise Frontenac had settled.

It was a bold stroke, and as a way of avoiding the war, a futile one; for the war came to Bois-de-Bas in due course. Amelie and I were forced to leave our home (the village shop, in point of fact) and seek shelter elsewhere. Now we have returned to our village and are trying to put the pieces back together again, higgery-hoggery; and I suppose that restoring the woodwork will provide me with something to do once the snows come, which may be any time now. The mantelpiece itself can be replaced, but the timbers cannot be. At least the timbers are bronzewood, so the marks made on them by the Provençese cochons are as shallow as their wit.

The new mantelpiece will also be bronzewood, if I have anything to say about it; and indeed I think I shall take the time to harden it. That will learn them, should we ever have any trouble with soldiers again. May their knives break on it!

Yes, Jack, it is true, your esteemed cousin is now a humble shopkeeper. Amelie's father, M. Fabré, was the village shopkeeper—which, by the by, is a much grander title than you might think. The village shop is where everyone buys whatever they need that is not made locally, so it is as much a warehouse and a transshipment point as a shop. But he was unwell, and had only a daughter to follow after him, and—

You needn't look at me like I'm some kind of fortune hunter, Jack. If you must know, I was maneuvered into this marriage by my friends Marc and Elise—and, indeed, by the whole rest of the village, I suppose—and I am grateful. Amelie suits me very well, and should you have the chance to meet her you'll wish she had a sister, Jack, indeed you will. Alas, for you! But truly, you could do worse, when your time is up, than to take your pay and come here.

But there is more. Not only am I a humble village shopkeeper, I am now a master in the Armorica Former's Guild—which, at present, consists only of me, myself, and I. Yes, you may well stare. The guild here was founded by masters from the guild in Toulouse nigh on thirty years ago, and after experiencing conditions here in the early days of the colony, the survivor went home, leaving me in possession as it were. I have quite risen in the world!

Jack, I am hoping this finds you well; and if well, then, of course, still about His Majesty's business. In that case you shall certainly not tell me where you are or what you have been doing. But please, do write me, if you can, and let me know that you are well. I have been much concerned.

Your cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- A Letter Home (10 Novembre 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have taken advantage of the lull in the fighting to send the following letter to my Aunt Maggie in Yorke. I copy it here because I have no doubt it will come to the attention of Mr. Trout, and when one's mail is likely to be read it is wise to keep track of what one has written. Not that having a copy will save me, should it come to that, but the truth should be known.

Dear Aunt Maggie,

The fortunes of war have kept me from writing to you since last June, but now I am taking advantage of His Majesty's victories to let you know that we are well—all three of us! Yes, Amelie and I now have a beautiful little girl, whom we have named Anne-Marie. She is adorable. I have had no time for drawing, or I should send you a picture.

I have not much news beyond that; life here in our little village had been much upset by the war and the depredations of le Maréchal's men, but that has greatly eased due to the valor of HIs Majesty's troops and the current blockade. May it long continue!

Indeed, the mood here in Bois-de-Bas is joyful; there is no love for le Maréchal or his regime in my part of Armorica, I can assure you, and if there is no great affection for Cumbria still there is admiration for Cumbria's role in putting down le Maréchal's navy. I gather sentiments are similar in Mont-Havre; for the people there, being much more dependent on trade than we are here in the country, have suffered much by its lack, and now are reassured by its increase. In time, I am sure, overt sentiment in favor of His Majesty will decline in the hearts of many, but for now the sight of a Cumbrian emblem on a sky-freighter is much lauded, or so I am told.

I do have two requests for you. First, I should very much like news of Jack. I have not heard from him since the war began, and I have been greatly fearing for his safety. I trust he is well and unharmed? I should like to hear from him, if that may be arranged. And second, I should wish you to know that my master's chain arrived in good order, and accompanied, to my surprise, with words from my father! Was it necessary for you to go to the Guild, to Master Netherington-Coates? If so, I must be sure to send him my thanks as well.

In the mean time, please convey my news to my mother; and if it seems good to you, please also convey my thanks and best wishes to my father.

A final note. Previously I had requested you to write to me in care of Madame Truc's boarding house; at this time, you had best write to me in care of the firm of Suprenant et fils, also in Mont-Havre. M. Suprenant is my friend, and will ensure that I receive your letter.

Your affectionate nephew,

Armand

There is so much I do not know. My father was clearly involved in sending me my chain; only he would know what passed between us on my twelfth birthday. But did he send my chain of his own free will? Was he pressured by His Majesty's government? Will Aunt Maggie receive my letter, or am I simply writing to Mr. Trout's master? How I wish things could go return to the days before the war, when my new life was beginning and everything seemed so simple and grand.

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Letters from Armorica- Blockade (8 Novembre 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have not recorded anything in weeks, for I have had little to tell, and little time in which to write. We have been very much in the dark—literally, in that the days have grown shorter and we dare not show lights at night here on the island, but also in that we have had little word from the outside world. But at last we have news, for Marc's men have finally returned from Mont-Havre.

The war, it seems, is going badly for Le Maréchal: he has lost control of the Void to His Cumbrian Majesty's Navy, which is now blockading the Provençese ports, and few of his troops remain in Armorica, for he pulled them out before the blockade came down in earnest. His representative is still ensconced in the Gouverneur's mansion in Mont-Havre with a handful of guards, but beyond that we are free of him.

The war is far from over, for Le Grand Cochon remains as strong in ground troops as he ever was. But lacking control of the Void, he must confine his actions to defense, to the countries directly adjacent to Provençe, and to attempting to break the blockade. He may yet win; but I tell myself that Cumbrian sailors are the best in the world (even if I do hear the words in my father's voice).

All of this is good news for us here in Armorica. We will see no new Provençese troops until the blockade is resolved one way or the other; and at the moment we have little to fear from the Cumbrians, for the Royal Navy is entirely taken up with the blockade.

Best of all, the port of Mont-Havre is open again! Cumbria is desperate for timber and other goods to support their ship-building efforts, and so we have had a few ships Cumbrian sky-freighters come in. The folk of Mont-Havre have mixed feelings about trading with Cumbria at this time, for many there are still passionate supporters of their mother country of Provençe, but even they seem to have lost patience with the Nouvelle Regime. They want to see Provençe win, but they also want to see Le Maréchal lose, as who wouldn't. And so when the Cumbrians come to buy even the most reluctant are choosing to sell.

Soon, I hope, the other great nations will also resume trade with Armorica. That will be good for my friends who remain in Mont-Havre, especially M. Suprenant and M. Fournier the bookseller; and indeed, this may be the perfect time to begin to put M. Fournier's plans for importing Cumbrian books into action. The times are unsettled, but in unsettled times there is also great opportunity.

Amelie and shall shall spend tomorrow in Bois-de-Bas, where we shall attend divine services; and then I will meet with Marc and other men of the village in the hot springs. Oh, I am looking forward to soaking in the hot water! Our little bathhouse is no replacement, especially as the air grows colder. And then, it may well be that we shall leave our island to the snow and rain for the winter, and all return to Bois-de-Bas. If so, there is much to be done to make ready before the snows come.

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Letters from Armorica- A Hush (19 Octobre 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Astonishing news: the Provençese forces seems to have vanished! Marc brought this news with him today, and has no more idea what to make of it than I do.

For the past several weeks Marc has been out and about with the young men of Bois-de-Bas and the other frontier villages, hunting the Provençese and harrying their troops.

"Harrying their encampments, mostly," Marc told me.

They've worked out a scheme for this. They send out scouts on sky-sleds under cover of darkness. A sky-sled can travel quite far on a clear night, flying well above the trees and navigating by the stars, and searching out enemy encampments by the light of their fires. When a scout finds a body of troops, he returns to our camp, where a troop of men are waiting. Riding in sky-chairs and a sky-wagon or two, they travel silently to where the enemy sleeps. Perhaps half of the troop dismount, and attack the encampment from one direction—but this is a feint, and is meant only to concentrate the enemy's attention. Meanwhile, the sky-chairs ascend into the skies in the other direction, and prepare to snipe at individual soldiers from above. They hide near tall trees, where they are not silhouetted against the sky, and wreck havoc.

How the raid goes after that varies. If the cochons can be drawn all of the way out of their camp then two or three of the sky-chairs will descend to steal goods and set fire to the encampment. And then our forces are away, skimming silently over the tree tops, leaving no trace of their passage.

On other occasions we will prepare traps and ambushes. A small force will lead a larger Provençese forces into the trap; and again, hey presto, our men will be away silently.

But Marc tells me that they haven't seen any Provençese troops in the last three days. There seem to be none on the frontier, nor any between here and Honfleur, which is within a two day's walk of Mont-Havre.

Marc is worried. "They may be planning a new offensive, and have withdrawn to prepare."

"Maybe," I said. "Or maybe the war is going poorly for them elsewhere, and so the troops have been withdrawn from Armorica"

"I would like to think so," he said. "Some of the men believe so, and are ready to return to their homes."

"Let them," I said. "Keep a group of scouts; and send a homing board with each village's contingent. We can call them back quickly enough if the Provençese should return."

"Perhaps you are right," he said. "I plan to send men to Mont-Havre—on foot, you understand—to see what is going on there."

"I expect you will find that the cochons have left only a token force. I have reason to believe that the war is going well for Cumbria." Then I told Marc about Mr. Trout, my visitor from the Cumbrian Former's Guild—or, more likely, from the Cumbrian crown, for I am sure he is ultimately in the employ of His Majesty. He shares my misgivings, but agreed that there was nothing else I could have done.

"I would have told you before," I said, "But I did not want to put any of this down on paper."

"Vraiment," he said. "You were wise to wait. And I would not be too worried. You belong to us, now. We will stand by you. And then, suppose the Cumbrians do win? My father always said that Cumbrians are most pragmatic in the way of trade. And when peace comes, your sky-wagons are going to make trade easier than ever before. Until now Mont-Havre has always been the major city, because it has the only port for the big sky-ships, and it has been too hard to ship goods in quantity to and from other parts of Armorica. But with your sky-wagons, zut alors! It will not be long before we are exporting sky-wagons to Cumbria, and Bois-de-Bas is the second city of Armorica."

Bold words, intended, to buck me up, which they have. I pray that they may prove true.

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Letters from Armorica- A Wedding (11 Octobre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today was the wedding of Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte. It was a quiet affair, beginning at the church in Bois-de-Bas and continuing at the home of Brigitte's family, and not at all fancy, even by the standards of Bois-de-Bas. Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte wore the clothes they stood up in, and though there was great joy there was little cheer in the way of food and drink.

Times are lean in Bois-de-Bas. We've had no trade with Mont-Havre to speak of since August, when Jean-Baptiste and Madame Truc arrived, or with any town or village in that direction. We have some small trade with the other villages in the new confederation Marc is building—to give it an overly grand name—but they, like we, are on the frontier. They, like we, produce food for themselves and goods needed by the larger towns, and they, like we, have no market for the latter.

And yet the folk here are remarkably cheerful. I have to remind myself that these are the families who chose a hard life away from the big towns, and not so long ago either. The products of civilization that they currently lack were completely unavailable as recently as ten years ago. They have their ways of making do, and make do they will. They are proud of their self-sufficiency, even if it means keeping these evil Armorican goats.

I can imagine what my father would say about my new friends and how they live, but for my part I am proud of them and glad to be numbered among them.

Amelie and I took time during the day to visit what is left of our shop. Marc and Elise took it over when Amelie came to live with me on L'Isle de Grand Blaireau; and then they were evicted by the Provençese cochons when they garrisoned the village. It has stood empty since we dealt with the garrison. Oh! that was a sad visit! Our friends in Bois-de-Bas (and especially the Gagnon's) did their best to clean it up for us, but the cochons were pigs indeed! Marc and Elise were able to remove Amelie's keepsakes and valuables when they were cast out, and took them to Onc' Herbert's farm, including a cherished drawing of Amelie's mother, but what remained was sorely abused. Several articles of furniture had to be burned, and the soldiers carved rude words and obscenities on the walls and tables. It will take much more work to make it a fit place to raise a family. The soldiers also made free with the goods in the store room. Our neighbors have taken stock of what is left, and assure me that they are keeping track of what they take for their own needs.

Amelie seems far less distressed about it all than I. When I swore at the pigs for their misdeeds, she chided me and said, "They are dead, mon cher. We are not." She is right, of course, and I suppose that surviving in such circumstances is the best revenge.

I do not know what we shall do with the shop when the war is over. Perhaps the settlement on L'Isle de Grand Blaireau will wither when the war is over, having served its purpose, and we will return to Bois-de-Bas. Or perhaps it will become a new village in truth, in which case I think we must remain. But the people of Bois-de-Bas will need a village shop once trade returns.

It depresses me to think of these things—to think of the future. The man in black—he said to call him Mr. Trout, which I am sure is not his real name—left Bois-de-Bas after we spoke, having given me a password and certain instructions that I shall not write down even here, and I dread hearing from him again. The war is a curse, but so long as the war continues I am protected. Le Maréchal cannot afford to spend too many troops on Armorica; he has other cats to whip, as Amelie would say. And my father, well. His reach is even longer than I thought, but even Mr. Trout knows nothing of our island.

But once the war is over, I fear it will go hard for me, whoever it is that wins. I fear the little man is correct: for all our bravery, Armorica cannot stand on its own. Le Maréchal would execute me, and my father would have me back under his thumb.

Could Armorica be truly independent? Our numbers are few, and Provençe and Cumbria are large. My new devices would give us an edge, yet I've no doubt the Guild in Yorke could produce the same if they chose, once they have seen them.

And then…Mr. Trout warned me that the Cumbrian guild would repudiate me if I didn't fall into line. I fear that the Cumbrian guild might repudiate me anyway, once they learn what I've been doing.

I wish Marc were here. I need his counsel and advice, and I dare not commit my concerns to paper.

Next letter

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photo credit: Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel Hogs live out their last days in the “finishing shed,” where they are grouped by weight to give smaller animals a fair chance at food. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Alliances (9 Octobre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I find that I am all to pieces, so much so that I can hardly write.

Today I conveyed Jean-Baptiste to Bois-de-Bas, where I had not been since being hurried away to L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau back in July. Marc is away with the better part of our young men, seeking alliances and harrying the Provençese wherever they can, so long as it is far distant from here, and so things are quiet in our vicinity. Thus, when Jean-Baptiste came to me and said that he must speak to Brigitte’s father—an event long foreseen, at least by Amelie and I—it seemed much the most natural thing to fly him down myself, and as his friend to vouch for him.

I am happy to say that that all went quite well, and if all remains calm we shall bring a party down from the island on Samedi for the wedding. Though for myself I am not calm at all.

But the prospective nuptials are not what has me all aquiver, whatever effect it may be having on Jean-Baptiste. After the meeting with Brigitte’s father I left Jean-Baptiste and began to make a rounds of the village. I was at the Gagnon’s when M. Tremblay came to find me. I believe I have written of the Tremblays before, great friends of Onc’ Herbert (on whom be peace); and M. Tremblay is overseeing affairs in the village in Marc’s absence. He had with him an odd little man with the look of a solicitor, for he was dressed all in black, with lank straw-colored hair and square spectacles. I had often seen his like in Mont-Havre—or in Yorke, come to that—but never out here, in the countryside. Imagine my surprise when he spoke to me in a broad Cumbrian accent!

He begged leave to speak to me alone, which I readily granted; but rather than going into a room by ourselves he insisted that we walk on the green.

“The better not to be overheard,” he said, speaking now in Provençese, perfectly Armorican Provençese. “You are Armand Massey, son of Burlington Massey of Yorke?”

“I do not use that name any longer,” I said. “Here, I am Armand Tuppenny.”

“Quite so,” he said. “Now, I was directed to ask what it was that you received from your father on your twelfth birthday.”

I stared at him. “I beg your pardon?”

He regarded me somberly through this spectacles. “It is easy to claim that you are Armand Massey; and indeed you match the description I was given. In my profession, however, I must observe all due diligence.”

I began to feel a profound sense of worry. “Has something happened to my…to my parents?”

To my surprise, my visitor smiled slightly.

“No, no, nothing of that kind. Now, I must ask again: what was it that you received from your father on your twelfth birthday?”

“I hardly like to say.”

“Nevertheless.”

I sighed. “If you must know, I received a good caning for not having studied my lessons to his satisfaction. I did not sit down for a week.”

“Very good. Though to be precise, it was for defying him in the matter of your forming exercises, was it not?”

“Yes, it was.” That was a detail known only to my father and I. I well remembered the occasion, he and I alone in his sanctum. Very well, this man must be from my father; or, if not, all was already lost in Yorke.

“In that case,” he said, “I have something to show you.”

He led me to the front of the church, which was completely untenanted at this time of week, as though to get out of the wind. We stood with our backs to the green, and he removed a flat box from the side pocket of his coat. He opened the lid, and showed me its contents.

“None of that,” he said, when I reached for it. “All things in due course.”

“But that is my master’s—”

“Not so,” he broke in. “This is a master’s chain of the Former’s Guild in Yorke. It may, perhaps, become your master’s chain. If we can reach an accommodation.” He closed the box and returned it to his pocket. Later, I was able to reflect that this was my father’s mark: never anything without strings attached. At the time I was merely furious.

“What kind of accommodation, monsieur—I do not even know your name.”

“And that is for the best for now. Tell me, M. Massey, where do you stand on the war between Cumbria and le Maréchal?”

I stiffened. “With my Armorican countrymen, monsieur. And my name is Tuppenny.”

“Your Armorican countrymen are divided, M. Tuppenny. Where do you stand?”

“I am quite sure that you know. The cochons have invaded our homes, and abused our people. Armorica will have none of them so long as le Maréchal is in command.”

“Very good. And where do you stand as regards Cumbria?”

“It is the land of my birth.”

“That is good. For I may tell you plainly that Armorica is too weak to stand on its own. This war will end one day; and either le Maréchal or the King’s forces will prevail. And as goes the war, so will go Armorica. Will you support the King in this?”

“What kind of support do you have in mind?”

“Will you speak well of His Majesty to your new…countrymen? Would you provide information to his agents? Would you undertake tasks for him?”

“And if I would not?”

Le Maréchal‘s men in Mont-Havre are looking for one Armand Tuppenny. They know he has gone to ground, but they do not know where, all of the troops sent in this direction having mysteriously disappeared.”

The thread was plain enough. “And what is to stop you from mysteriously disappearing, monsieur?” I found myself trembling with rage. “I should find it easy enough to take the chain from your corpse, and none here would say me nay.”

The man was unmoved. “That is up to you, of course. But if I do not return to Mont-Havre in good time the information as to your whereabouts will be released to the Provençese commander. And more, once His Majesty’s forces have defeated le Maréchal the Guild in Yorke will repudiate you utterly. You know what guild law entails for such an offense. You see, my friend, that you have little choice.”

I have the chain before me as I write. And I must say, my rage is not for the little man in black, but for my father—my father, who will never simply ask when he can coerce, damn him!

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- The Master Mind (5 Octobre 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It’s been a tiresome week. Little Anne-Marie has been sleeping poorly all week, and keeping Amelie awake at all hours; and given the size of our quarters her fussiness is contagious. And yet the work goes on, and must be done, and done well. Today, however, is Sunday. We have been to chapel; we have had dinner with our neighbors in the mess hall (for it is now too cold to gather out of doors for a meal in any comfort); we have been to the baths, even if in shifts. And now the three of us are snug in our quarters and I have some time to reflect on the past few days.

I have spent most of the week working out the details of my new means of communication and make it viable for actual use. The answer, it turns out, is arrows—or at least something that looks like arrows. As Marc pointed out to me, a man carrying a bag of small pieces of wood is suspicious, but an archer carrying a quiver of arrows is simply an archer. And arrows have another advantage in the field.

First, take a length of log that is an inch or two longer than the shortest arrow your archers can comfortably use with their standard bows. Forming as you go, cut off the inch or two from one end; this is the “homing board”. Cut the remainder of the log lengthwise into arrow-like rods, and shape them appropriately, notching one end for a bow string. These are the seekers, all of which will share the single homing board. Attach a capsule to the pointy end of each seeker, into which a message can be put; or, simply wrap the message around the seeker and secure it in some way. In the latter case, the seeker can have a proper arrowhead.

Next, put the homing board at the top of a tall pole with good lines of sight. The homing ability will turn off when the seeker hits the homing board, so the board should probably be mounted over a basket. Ideally the board should be raised above the treetops, and so could easily be made part of a watch tower.

When you want to send a message to wherever the homing board is, write it out, attach it to a seeker, and launch the seeker into the air. If you are on the ground, you can use a bow to get the seeker into the air over the treetops; from the edge of our island nearest to Bois-de-Bas one can simply toss the seeker over the edge. It will fly to the homing board, not much like an arrow, indeed, where a watcher can retrieve it and open the message.

Bertrand’s lads can use the system to inform us here in the encampment about sightings as well, either by use of a bow or (for shorter distances) by means of a pre-surveyed line of sight from their watch posts to the homing board here on Le Blaireau. Position a small hoop at the far end to mark the spot, activate the seeker, and point it through the hoop. Voila!, as Amelie would say. But we have to be careful about using this latter method; we would not want a seeker to hit some poor soul on the trail.

In the meantime I have uncovered the mystery about Luc and Bertrand. As Luc’s master (for I drew up a formal contract of apprenticeship with Luc’s father) it is my responsibility to house and feed him and see to the rest of his upbringing, and so he has been given a small space adjacent to my quarters in which to sleep and keep his belongings, and he takes his meals with us. (According to tradition he should be sleeping in the workshop, but it is open to the Avenue on one side, and the Avenue is open to the night air at each end, and the nights are growing cold.) He has been diligent at doing his work, which to date has mostly consisted of sawing logs into rods, listening to my lectures, and asking questions so as to avoid going back to the logs.

But sometime he goes missing, quite unaccountably, usually early in the morning or late in the evening. I will pass by his space, and he will be gone. I have not pressed him, but I have kept a watchful eye; and several days ago, when I was unavoidably wakeful, I heard him creeping across the deck outside our room. I followed as quietly as I could.

He went straight to the mess hall, where he found Bertrand; and from the latter’s quiet welcome it was clear that this was no unusual meeting. I watched for a moment—was this a raid on the larder? For we are on a war footing, and food is strictly rationed. We have no farms here on the island, at least not yet, and by this time there is little game. Our food must come from below.

But no—neither made any move toward the galley or the stores. They appeared to be talking, no more. I waited another minute or two, then presented myself. It was almost amusing to watch the blood drain from their faces when the realized they had been found.

“Luc, return to your bed,” I said sternly. Bertrand made as if to rise as well, but I fixed him in his spot with a glance I learned at my father’s knee. When Luc had quite gone, I sat down across from Bertrand.

“Well?”

To my shock, he seemed to be fighting tears. For the sake of his pride I won’t detail the conversation that followed; but it seems that Bertrand and Luc have long had a partnership, since both were much younger. Bertrand has always been the biggest…and, so it seems, Luc has been the smartest. Bertrand has protected Luc, and Luc has provided Bertrand with the advice he needs to keep ahead of the other boys. Luc no longer needs Bertrand’s protection; he’s earned his place among the other boys long since. But Bertrand, it seems, still feels the need of Luc’s advice.

I suppose he might at that. In the last months he has been elevated from simply being the leading boy of the group to a kind of officer, directing the other boys in their duties. It may well be a daunting thing.

“Very well,” I said. “Can you trust Jean-Marc to keep order among the boys in the mess hall?” Bertrand said he could. “Well, then, you shall join Luc and my family for the morning and evening meals; and at that time you may consult with him…and with me. Every commander has a staff, after all. But there must be no more of this sneaking around at night. If you are to be alert for your duties, you must sleep when you can.”

And so it seems that I have acquired another apprentice, of sorts, not in the art of forming, but in the art of leading men.

I ask myself, frequently, how I got into this situation? I sometimes feel that my place here on the island, and in Bois-de-Bois more generally, is held up by nothing more substantial than sustained whimsy. And yet here I am: I tell a man—or a boy—to do something, and he does it, which I find quite unaccountable.

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Letters from Armorica- Homing In (29 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Marc,

As you know, I've been pondering how we might quickly send word to you of approaching ships or troops. I believe I might have solved the problem, with a little help from my new apprentice, Luc.

It was late yesterday afternoon. I'd been running him through his preliminary forming exercises, which I won't describe in detail. In order to form you must first learn to see the forces you will be forming, and so the exercises involve lots of staring at formed stones, bits of wood, and shards of pot. It's essential but all too tedious.

That's my observation, not my father's. My father would never admit that anything he directed me to do was tedious.

We were taking a break, and naturally enough he was asking questions about the sky-chairs—in hopes of extending the break, you know. I am sure you have done the same in your time; I know I have. But he asked just the right question to get me thinking. He said, "Master, what would happen if you started a sky-chair moving, then hopped out. Would it keep going? How far would it go?"

I said, "Pretty far, I should think. It would be a waste of a good sky-chair." For of course it would sail off until it hit something. But then I began to wonder. What if there were a way to aim it? For example, suppose I went to the edge of the island, and aimed a sky-chair down at Bois-de-Bas and set it going. I could put a letter or package on the seat of the chair, and presuming the chair arrived you could collect them and send the chair back.

Now, there are many objections to this scheme. My goal is to send word to Bois-de-Bas of approaching troops; and for that to be useful the message must travel exceedingly quickly. A quickly moving sky-chair, poorly aimed, would be far too likely to put a hole through the Tremblay's roof, or worse, through the church's. And then, even a slowly moving sky-chair is quite a noticeable sight; if it were not, I would simply have a man fly the message down.

But suppose…what if there were a way to direct it to a specific spot, so that it wouldn't crash into people's houses? And what if it were very small, just big enough to carry a message, so that it wasn't noticeable going through the air? Then we'd be getting somewhere. I could not see a way to do it, but the idea would not leave me; and yesterday afternoon a notion came to me in the baths.

The essence of the idea is this: things once connected retain a connection. Suppose I were to cut a piece of wood in two, and form both halves in a suitable way. The one half is to remain in place; the other, when properly triggered, is to seek its mate, like birds seeking warmer airs in winter! Attach a message to the seeker, and send it on its way, and there you have it. The bond between the two pieces of wood might be enough to give the seeker the necessary direction.

I have tried this in my workshop with some degree of success, and no little comedy. I began by cutting a length of wood into two equal pieces. Forming them was tricky, but easy enough once I saw how to do it. I put one piece on my workbench and took the other some yards away and set it to going. The results surprised me: the seeker sought out its mate, all right, but when I set it going its mate leaped from the workbench at equal speed and the two met in the middle of my workshop, where they fell to the floor. I am not at all sure what to make of that, but I have discovered that it works much better if the pieces of wood are of unequal sizes, the more unequal the better.

Also, I have learned that the seeker is not too good about going round corners; it works best if there are no obstacles between the seeker and its mate.

Included with this message is a largish block of wood; if you look closely you'll see where I have cut a sliver from one side. Please put the block in a basket in the open air, in a place where you can clearly see L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau in the sky. Tomorrow morning I shall attach a message to the sliver, and send it off to you. I shall send it at about nine of the clock; and for this experiment I will send it slowly. It should take about an hour to reach you—if it reaches you at all. Should it work such a distance, I will begin to work on increasing the speed.

Amelie and Anne-Marie are both quite well, and Brigitte is spoiling them both, though possibly not for much longer; I think we shall see Jean-Baptists and Brigitte settled in their own home quite soon. Please give our regards to Élise!

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Luc Touchard (24 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have, perhaps, found my lad, though I am not sure how well he will like it. For that matter, I am not sure how well I will like it. His name is Luc Touchard. He's a smaller lad than most in Bertrand's crew, and he is both quick and quick-witted. He may have the Former's Gift; I think he does, but it is too soon to tell.

Two things are necessary to the making of a master former. (I can hear my father's voice echoing in my head as I write. How I used to loath his lectures, and how essential I shall find them now!) Two things are necessary, as I say. The lad must have the Gift, and the lad must have the wit. "A stupid fellow with the Gift might find work at one of His Majesty's shipyards, providing brute strength to a team of formers, but he will never be able to work on his own or to represent the Guild in any way!" So quoth my father to me on many occasions; and he nearly always followed it up with, "Is that what you want for yourself, lad? I won't have it, I tell you! I won't have it!"

Luc has the wit; and he may well have the Gift. Of all the boys here on the island, he alone might have both. I can look farther afield if I must, but one thing at a time.

This morning I found Bertrand in the mess hall (for the boys whose families are down below eat and sleep here on Le Blaireau) and told him to bring his lads to see me in my workshop this afternoon; and that I'd arranged with some of the young men to take over the watch for that period of time.

"Oh, monsieur," he said. "You don't want to do that. They won't keep watch as well as we do." He's a proud lad, is Bertrand; and of course, being captain of the boys gives him considerable prestige.

"Not to worry, Bertrand, it's just for this afternoon. I'm looking for a lad to help me with my work."

His face got pale. " Moi, monsieur? But—"

"You are perfectly well-employed where you are, Bertrand. You're doing excellent work. But one of your lads might have the skills I need. I won't know until I speak with them." Bertrand is a sharp lad, but I have worked with him enough to be quite sure that he hasn't the Gift.

"Oui, monsieur."

I lunched with Amelie and little Anne-Marie, and when I came out to my workshop, I found Bertrand and his lads in residence. Or, rather, all but one of them. Bertrand was sitting on my workbench with his lieutenant Jean-Marc by his side, and ten or twelve other lads lolled about on the floor, but one was missing.

"Bertrand, where's the other boy?"

"Other boy, monsieur?" Bertrand is skilled at getting in trouble, or at least he was before I put him in harness, but his facial expressions are most transparent.

"Yes, the other boy. I don't know his name, but I have often seen him with you and Jean-Marc."

Bertrand shrugged a little, and continued trying to look blank.

"I saw him sitting next to you at breakfast this morning. Sandy hair? About a head shorter than you?"

At that, Bertrand deflated. "Oui, monsieur." He dropped down from the workbench and straggled out the door and around the corner, returning only a moment later with the boy I remembered. Apparently the lad had been listening from out of sight.

"And what's your name, lad?" I asked.

"Luc Touchard," he said.

"Your father's a farmer?"

"Oui, monsieur."

"Bon. Now, lads, here's what we're about. I'm looking for a smart young fellow to help me here in my workshop. I'm going to speak to each of you in private, over there; and when I'm done with you, you can go about your business. If you were to be on watch this afternoon, you can take a sled and go to your post; otherwise, you can do whatever you normally do. Do not come back to my workshop to talk with your friends. Got that?"

"Oui, monsieur," they all said, and inwardly I marveled. Authority is a peculiar thing, and somehow I have acquired it! I should never even have attempted to control such a large group of boys when I first came to Armorica.

"Bertrand, I rely on you and Jean-Marc to keep order. As I finish with each boy send the next along. Jean-Marc can come last." Jean-Marc is another boy that I know quite well; he hasn't the gift either, and truthfully I didn't intend to speak to him at all.

Bertrand nodded, but he had a gloomy expression on his face.

I walked across to the avenue to a bench outside the door to my quarters, and we began.

I have never examined candidates for apprenticeship before, and my memories of my own examination are dim; not that there was any chance that a son of my father's line would lack the Gift. But fortunately it is one of the things I was required to write into my grimoire prior to becoming a journeyman (not that I was ever allowed to journey); for a journeyman is on the way to being a master, and a master must know how to examine an apprentice.

The Gift cannot be seen with the naked eye, not quite. There are certain marks to look for: a certain cast to the eyes, a certain set of the chin. Formers tend to have long, thin fingers. These marks I could look for without commenting on them, and I did so. Then there were the questions. What was his earliest memory? Did he ever dream of strange lights? Had he heard voices not his own in the darkness? If so, what did they say? There are a number of these. No man now living knows what they mean, or why formers so often give the same answers to them, so my father said. But they do.

One lad, a dull, thick, fellow, had the chin and fingers I was looking for; and he had often dreamed of lights, among other things, but I could tell he would not do. He was a good lad, stolid and eager to please, but he lacked that spark of wit. In my father's hands he might make a steady but boring living in the shipyards, given a team of brighter formers to work with, but we were not doing that sort of work, nor do two formers make a team. I made a note of his name, though. The time might come when he can be of use, and his future children will be worth watching.

Others had one or two of the marks, or answered a question or two in the desired way, but this, my notes assured me, was not uncommon.

And finally there were three boys sitting across the way: Bertrand, Jean-Marc, and Luc. I waved, and Bertrand gritted his teeth and told Luc to go. Luc looked uncertain, and Bertrand shouted at him, and he came over hanging his head.

I'd feared it would come down to this. Luc had the eyes, and the chin; he had the fingers; and as I spoke with him it became clear that he also had the wit. He answered the questions well. I finished with a question that wasn't on the list.

"Bertrand seems to be a little upset. Can you tell me why?"

He shrugged, his face still downcast. He knew, all right, but he wasn't telling.

"Very well. If your father agrees, Luc, you are going to be working here with me in my shop as my apprentice. I will speak with him. For now, you may go."

"Oui, monsieur." He ran off, his head still down.

I walked over to where Bertrand and Jean-Marc were sitting.

"Thank you for your help, Bertrand," I said. "Luc will be working with me, now, I believe. You may go."

Bertrand was scowling as he went off. I shall have to find out what is behind that.

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Letters from Armorica- Lumber (21 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Ask me for anything but lumber!

Wood we have a-plenty—L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau is heavily forested, as are the surrounding lands below—but of seasoned lumber we have but little, and we need far more than we have. Lumber for housing here on the island, lumber for sky-chairs, wagons, and sleds, and just plain wood for cooking, these are in short supply. The problem is particularly acute now that I am working on the design for our transport wagons, which will have a minimum of formed parts. When I was hardening everything, it mattered little whether the wood was seasoned or not: once hardened, a plank will no longer warp or splinter. But our transport wagons will not be hardened, and so seasoned wood is essential.

Gah! I have been going over and over this in my head so that I can hardly sleep. I try to break it down. We must fell trees. We must cut them into timbers, which is slow work; we have no sawmill in Bois-de-Bas. We must let the timbers season; which means getting them under cover, which means we need to build sheds.

That's if we do all of the work here on the island; which means it's probably better to do it downside and store the timbers in Jean-le-Marique's woodshed. But that means moving some of the men back to Bois-de-Bas, a thing I am most reluctant to do. I suppose it is for the best, though. If we fell too many trees here on the island, the gaps will be immediately apparent to anyone who cares to look, and then where would we be?

But what shall we do for lumber in the meantime?

Marc tells me I must not worry. Folk have lived without sky wagons for all of recorded history until now; we will need to make war on le Maréchal's forces without them for a time. In the meantime, he says, we need more sleds and chairs. He has found the sleds to be the most effective way to get sentinels to and from their posts, just as we have here on the island; and he needs the chairs to build his lines of communication with the surrounding towns. A sky chair is much faster than a horse or mule, and can easily be hidden in the woods, out of sight.

Already he has sent messengers north and south, to Bois-de-Soleil and to Trouville, to speak to the leading men there and to sound them out. We must be careful; it is by no means clear that our neighbors will share our views. In addition, he has sent men on sleds to scout the road west towards Mont-Havre. The Provençese will be wondering what has happened to the sloops they sent our way, and the next wave of troops will likely be on foot. We must know where they are based, and when they are coming; and we must have plans to drive them away.

Marc, blessings upon him, has not asked me to participate in this planning, nor to use my gifts to create more weapons of war beyond those I have already designed. Yet I find that I am uneasy in my mind. When I sit of an evening, and hold my daughter, my beautiful Anne-Marie, I am filled with a kind of ferocity in which I would gladly destroy anyone who might threaten her, yes, and sow their fields with salt besides. But then I reflect that even the wicked Capitaine Le Clerc was a mother's son, and possibly also the father of children, children who are now orphans, and I find that my ferocity fades away.

Amelie, I may say, has no such qualms. "If les cochons come here, why, we will deal with them," she says. "They may live for all of me, so long as they live somewhere else, n'est-ce-pas?" And Madame Truc agrees with her. "You are too good for this war, mon fils," she says. "Mon cher mari and I did not come here to be hounded by the men of the old country. If he were here, zut alors! He would show them a thing."

If we are confined to using green wood for the coming months, then I must harden it; and if I must harden it, I must have an apprentice. Tomorrow I will start testing Bertrand's lads; perhaps one of them will have the gift.

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